Friday, May 24, 2013

Entry # 150 - "Reading Other Writers' Work"

Photo Credit - Jan Bowman - Pacific Ocean - April 2013
June 5th I am off to the 2013 Gettysburg Review Writers Conference again this year and looking forward to another class with Lee K. Abbott. Yesterday I received a packet of ten stories (20-25 pages for most) from writers, whose work (including my own) we will read and perhaps, reread before the workshop discussions. I will take notes about the strengths, as well as areas that might benefit from revision. As I do so – I will appreciate the hard work that was required to produce each story. Writing is hard work, but I love it.

I take my workshop reading responsibilities seriously. I read each story carefully once; then I wait a day or two, to let my inner writer think and process the heart of a story.  After the second reading I write a brief (three sentence) summary of the “aboutness” of the story. Finally, I make a list of strong elements in the work itself, focusing upon the story, not the specific writer, and list areas where I (as a reader) need more clarity. 

I always appreciate workshops in which participants take their reading responsibilities as a sacred opportunity to help other writers. I’ve learned a lot by noticing what writers do well and what they’re still working to improve. I’m there to get additional insights. And to share my own experiences with others, while also noticing that each writer brings different strengths, experiences and needs to the discussion process. Ideally we will all leave with new ways to improve our writing.

These talented writers came to their own stories with some type of inner vision as to the heart of their stories. In the end, each writer must decide what advice from other writers seems to ring true and which advice would ruin their story. Knowing what advice works and what advice to ignore is part of the process. 

Writers go to these conferences with a good story that has the potential to be great. We go in search of an elusive bit of “feedback” that will help us make it better.    
Photo Credit - Jan Bowman - Pacific Storm - April 2013
In her wonderful book, Toxic Feedback: Helping Writers Survive and Thrive, writer Joni B. Cole defines - feedback – n. (writing): any response to a writer or his (her) work that helps him (her) write more, write better, and be happier.
She says, “Doesn’t that make you want to race out and get some?”


About Jan Bowman 
Jan Bowman’s fiction has appeared in numerous publications including, Roanoke Review, Big Muddy, The Broadkill Review, Third Wednesday, Minimus, Buffalo Spree (97), Folio, The Potomac Review, Musings, Potato Eyes and others. Glimmer Train named a recent story as Honorable Mention in the November 2012 Short Story Awards for New Writers. Winner of the 2011 Roanoke Review Fiction Award, her stories have been nominated for Pushcart Prizes, Best American Short Stories, a Pen/O’Henry award and a recent story was a finalist in the 2013 Phoebe Fiction Contest; another was a 2012 finalist in the “So To Speak” Fiction Contest. She is working on two collections of short stories while shopping for a publisher for a completed story collection. She has nonfiction publications in Trajectory and Pen-in-Hand. She writes a weekly blog of “Reflections” on the writing life and posts regular interviews with writers and publishers.   Learn more at or visit blog:

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